The forgotten war that spawned the Paris attacks

Adam Baron writes: The massacre at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo was neither the only nor the deadliest terror attack to occur on Wednesday. Hours before the Koauchi brothers made their way to the offices of the French satirical magazine, thousands of miles away, in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, a car bomb struck a crowd of men lined up to enroll at the city’s police academy. Roughly four-dozen were killed as the bomb went off, strewing blood and body parts across the street.

It’s a coincidence that has grown all the more notable — and tragic — in light of the emerging ties between the Charlie Hebdo attackers and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based terror group that officials have accused of carrying out Wednesday’s car bomb. According to the AFP, Said Koauchi, the older of the pair, traveled to Yemen multiple times between 2009 and 2011, studying at Sanaa’s Iman University, a controversial institution headed by firebrand cleric Abdulmajid al-Zindani, prior to training with AQAP in camps in the south and southeast of the country.

Notably, Inspire, an English-language, AQAP-affiliate magazine, explicitly threatened to kill Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier in its March 2013 edition, and at writing time, AQAP has reportedly taken credit for the attack on behalf of the group, though the ultimate extent of the Koauchi brothers’ ties to Yemen and AQAP is still unclear. Either way, the attack has refocused attention to the impoverished, conflict-stricken country.

Hailed as a textbook example of a successful counterterrorism strategy by U.S. officials as late as fall of last year, Yemen has instead been riven with unrest lately. An internationally backed power transition agreement has fallen apart, and the country’s economy — to say nothing of the central government’s control over the bulk of the country — has appeared to collapse as well. And no one in the circles of power in the West seems to have noticed.

Indeed, last week’s violence in Paris seems to underline how little progress has been made against AQAP. Despite the efforts of the U.S. and Yemeni governments, it still appears to possess the ability to unleash horrors against Western targets.

Yemen had already developed a reputation as a hotspot for extremism by the time Koauchi allegedly first arrived in 2009. Many western-born Muslim hardliners flocked to Salafi institutes in the country, most famously, perhaps, the Dar al-Hadith institute in the far northern town of Dammaj. While the bulk of these foreigners simply came to study, a number joined up with extremists on the ground. One of the most notorious among them was “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian student trained by AQAP who infamously attempted to blow up a passenger airliner on Christmas Day 2009.

But while such rare plots against foreign targets have garnered AQAP the most attention, the bulk of activity — and the bulk of their attacks — has occurred on Yemeni soil. It is this violence the West ignores at its peril. [Continue reading…]

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